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Woodcock I, Dovey K, Wood S. Neighbourhood Nationalism: Our home is girt by sea. 2006.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/5353
Neighbourhood Nationalism: Our home is girt by sea
Based on an investigation of suburban Melbourne, this paper is an exploration of some ways in which the idea of neighbourhood 'character' resonates with Australian nationalism. The Australian national anthem begins: "Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free; we've golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea..." The quality of the poetry should not blind us to the keywords and images that frame the national imagination here: the 'home' is enclosed and secured as an island of 'freedom'; this stabilized ground of 'soil and wealth' is currently reinforced by the vote-winning slogan of 'border protection' and its accompanying imagery of refugees and rootless 'boat people' on the smooth space of the sea. While Melbourne's suburban neighbourhoods may not be literally 'girt by sea' they are being defended and created as imagined communities resonant with ideas about the nation. Neighbourhood 'character' has elevated to a key role in planning discourse and legislation where developers and architects are called on to protect, respect and enhance it in future additions to the city. New resedential developments are engaged in the creation of character (often an imaginary history) part of whose appeal is its perpetual protection by covenants. The prominence of the concept of 'character in the regulation of urban form is related to its fluid definition within a planning system focussed on the contestability of such key terms. This fluidity allows the conflation of social and physical aspects of the neighbourhood concept making it a particularly contentious planning issue. Attempts to define 'character' in terms of uniformity and closure often show it, like the national character, to be open to contestation and riddled with contradiction. The paper draws on interview material from case studies focusing on the meaning of neighbourhood character. While the concerns of residents may seem far removed from issues of nationalism, what is at stake for many is an image of the neighbourhood as a microcosm of an imagined nation and their place in its construction and management. These cases exemplify the roles that place-identity chan play as a code for the different subjectives and social identities of an increasingly diverse and multicultural nation. The case studies cover a trajectory from a fairly straightforward desire for a purified white heritage to the complexities of managing the co-existence of differences in shared space. The condition of the multicultural nation becomes manifest as discourse about its built form reveals different imaginations of it and the distinctions between different places within it.